By Liz Crokin
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week that some of the most devastating examples of sex trafficking are brought on by authority figures that should be working to protect members of society especially the most vulnerable such as children.
Unfortunately, when most people think about the business of kids being sold as sex slaves they assume it only happens in distant Third World countries. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only is it happening in our own backyard — it’s rampant. To understand how a sex trafficking ring could possibly exist and flourish in this country, one should look no further than Netflix’s new documentary, The Keepers, which exposes a Maryland-based sex trafficking ring from decades ago and it’s ties to an unsolved murder case.
Tillerson and Ivanka Trump both addressed sex trafficking issues at a press conference on June 27 to unveil the State Department’s annual human trafficking report. Tillerson emphasized that law enforcement partners need to know how to identify and respond to those who dishonorably wear the law enforcement uniform or the military uniform by allowing trafficking to thrive. “The most devastating examples are police officers and those who we rely upon to protect us that they become complicit through bribery, by actually working in brothels themselves or obstructing investigations for their own profit,” Tillerson said. “Complicity and corruption that allows human trafficking from law enforcement officials must end.”
Trump said at least 20 million people around the world are trapped in human trafficking situations including in the United States. “They’re in terrible circumstances of exploitation including so many young boys and girls who are victims of unthinkable tragedy of child sex trafficking,” Trump said.
Again, one might ponder how the trafficking of children for sex could possibly happen here in the United States. To understand not only how this could happen here but also how it prospers, I strongly encourage people to watch The Keepers. The seven-part hit series focuses on the rampant sexual abuse at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore that thrived over four decades ago and the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik who taught there.
Jean Hargadon Wehner, a Keough graduate from 1971, alleges in the series that Father Joseph Maskell had repeatedly raped her during counseling sessions with him when she was a student there. Wehner also claims in the series that Maskell brought in other men during their sessions and allowed them to rape her too. A distraught Wehner confided about the ongoing sexual abuse with Cesnik. Shortly after she revealed her nightmare to Cesnik, the nun went missing.
Wehner claims Maskell took her to see Cesnik’s decomposing body after she was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in 1969. Wehner said Maskell insinuated to her that Cesnik was killed for trying to expose the massive sexual abuse scandal. However, the murder remains unresolved to this day.
Over the past six years, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has paid $472,000 in out-of-court settlements to Wehner and 15 other people who accused Maskell of abuse, according to the Baltimore Sun. Despite the settlements, the series exposes how the Archdiocese protected the priest even after they were informed about the sexual abuse. That complicity allowed him to continue sexually abusing children for many more years.
Since the series has exploded, more victims have come forward claiming Maskell sexually abused them. Teresa Lancaster, a lawyer who was abused by Maskell as a child, said that two more of Maskell’s victims have come forward in recent days. “There could be as many as 100 victims,” Lancaster told the Daily Mail. However, the pedophile priest was never criminally charged and denied the allegations before his death in 2001.
So one might ask how the priest was able to sexually abuse dozens, perhaps hundreds, of young girls with no repercussions for years? The chilling answer is revealed in the third episode of the series titled The Revelation. Beverly Wallace, a lawyer who represents several of Maskell’s victims, describes how Maskell trafficked his student victims for sex to other prominent members of society such as police officers, business owners and politicians. “We heard from more than one person that there were other people brought in who performed sexual assaults and raped on these girls at the behest of Maskell or certainly with his permission and his presence,” Wallace said. “There were police officers, there were other clergymen, there were local business owners, there were politicians — that all were part of this network.”
Maskell was able to get away with sexually abusing kids for so long because he allowed many people in positions of power across various city agencies to engage in the abuse. This is how these powerful sex trafficking rings operate and manage to sustain themselves for long periods of time. Many Baltimore police officers were involved in the ring including Maskell’s own brother.
Maskell managed to charm his way with law enforcement officers since he also served as chaplain for the Baltimore County Police, the Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police. Since he had his hands in those three extremely powerful law enforcement agencies across the state – the system protected him and emboldened him to abuse children.
Wehner describes in the series how Maskell would bring men who were in law enforcement to his office, and he’d stand in the corner of the room and watch as they raped her. In a $40 million dollar lawsuit Wehner and another abuse victim filed against the school in 1994, she claims Maskell forced them into “vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, vaginal penetration with a vibrator, administration of enemas … and forcing Plaintiff to perform sexual acts with a police officer.” Not only were some members of law enforcement involved in the sexual abuse of the girls, the police and the Archdiocese colluded to shield Maskell from facing justice.
As an advocate for sexual abuse victims, I read and hear about cases of abuse involving elite members of society such as judges, politicians and police all the time. When a few authority figures and powerful members of society are part of a sex trafficking ring, the victim becomes powerless in the eyes of the law since the very people put in positions to protect them are in fact the abusers. The rogue authority members work hand-in-hand with their fellow perverted elites to protect each other so they can continue to sexually abuse children often for profit. It’s really hard for people to understand that this can go on and grow into a massive ring of offenders in powerful positions but it does. Sadly, The Keepers is just a microcosm of the much bigger problem that has spread like a cancer in higher elite circles in this country particularly within the political world.
The good news is that members of our current government – such as Tillerson, Ivanka and President Donald Trump – have taken the human trafficking issue head on and continue to make it a priority. Since Trump’s been sworn in, there’s been an unprecedented number of pedophile arrests that have included offenders in elite circles such as politicians and police officers.
Hopefully, the new hit series will continue to educate the masses on the horrendous sexual abuse that’s happening to our children right under our noses and inspire people to take action. Tillerson said: “It is our hope that the 21st century will be the last century of human trafficking.” If everyone works together to bring awareness and activism to this cause, that hope can become a reality.
Liz Crokin is an award winning investigative journalist, author of Malice and regular contributor to the Hagmann and Hagmann Report.
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